Your Guide to Using EBT on Uber Eats and Other Food Delivery Apps - Marketing Scoop (2024)

For the over 41 million Americans who rely on SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) to afford their groceries each month, food delivery services like Uber Eats may seem out of reach. These popular apps bring a world of culinary variety and convenience right to your doorstep with just a few taps on your phone. But when you‘re on a tight budget and depend on EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) to feed your family, you might assume this modern luxury is simply not an option.

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As an expert in the retail and consumer space, I‘m here to break down exactly how EBT works with food delivery platforms. I‘ll dig into the nitty gritty policy details, suggest some savvy strategies to save, and explore how these apps could better support low-income communities. My goal is for every reader to walk away empowered with knowledge to get the most nutritious bang for their EBT buck.

Can You Use EBT on Uber Eats?

Let‘s get right to the burning question: in [currentyear], can you use your EBT card to pay for meals delivered through Uber Eats?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Uber Eats does not currently accept EBT as a valid payment method. In fact, no major food delivery apps take EBT, including:

  • DoorDash
  • GrubHub
  • Postmates
  • Caviar
  • Seamless

So why is EBT not welcome as a form of payment on these platforms? It primarily comes down to the strict federal regulations around what can and cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits.

SNAP Restrictions on Hot and Prepared Foods

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides low-income individuals and families with a monthly stipend to spend on groceries. But the program has quite a few limitations. According to the USDA website, SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy:

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, or tobacco
  • Vitamins, medicines, and supplements
  • Live animals (except shellfish and animals slaughtered prior to pick-up)
  • Prepared foods fit for immediate consumption
  • Hot foods

It‘s those last two restrictions that pose the main problem for food delivery apps. Apps like Uber Eats primarily partner with restaurants, whose menu offerings would almost entirely fall under the umbrella of "prepared foods fit for immediate consumption." Delivering a hot and ready-to-eat meal is their entire business model.

There are some corner cases where certain shelf-stable items sold by restaurants may qualify to be purchased with EBT. For example, a wrapped deli sandwich intended to be eaten later or a packaged snack. But by and large, almost none of what food delivery apps sell can be legally bought with SNAP benefits by virtue of being hot and/or prepared meals.

This policy has drawn some criticism from anti-hunger advocates like the Urban Institute, who argue that it unfairly restricts food access for SNAP recipients:

"The inability to purchase hot and prepared foods presents a serious barrier for SNAP participants who do not have access to cooking facilities, are disabled or elderly, or are homeless. Lack of transportation also affects many SNAP participants‘ ability to purchase and prepare food. Expanding SNAP to allow for the purchase of hot and prepared foods would increase low-income individuals‘ equitable access to food."

So barring future policy changes, don‘t expect to be able to use your EBT card to pay for that delivery burrito bowl anytime soon.

The Challenges of Implementing EBT for Online Payments

Beyond the SNAP restrictions around eligible food items, there are also significant technological and logistical hurdles that retailers must clear in order to accept EBT payments online.

In 2019, the USDA launched an Online Purchasing Pilot allowing SNAP recipients to use their EBT cards to buy groceries online for the first time. But the program started small, initially partnering with just five retailers in eight states.

Retailers have to go through an extensive application and testing process in order to be approved for the pilot. They must meet stringent requirements around security, privacy, and transaction processing. According to the USDA‘s guide for retailers, some key capabilities they need to have include:

  • Ability to separate eligible vs. non-eligible items in a mixed shopping cart
  • Secure encryption and tokenization of EBT card data
  • Real-time transaction approval with the EBT processor
  • Restricting delivery address to match EBT card address

Building out this specialized infrastructure takes significant time and resources. Many smaller retailers simply don‘t have the technical capabilities required.

There‘s also the matter of financial incentives. The pilot program is completely optional for retailers. Companies have to invest their own money and developer bandwidth to implement EBT payments. For a retailer like Uber Eats whose customer base is overwhelmingly not SNAP recipients, it may simply not be profitable enough to bother with such an undertaking.

That said, the Online Purchasing Pilot has been gradually expanding. As of [currentyear], the program has grown to include over 100 retailers across 49 states. So while food delivery apps may still be holding out, low-income consumers do thankfully have a growing number of options for using their benefits to shop online.

What Can You Buy With EBT?

Now that we‘ve covered all the things you can‘t purchase with your EBT card, let‘s focus on what you can buy. Eligible food items under the SNAP program include:

  • Fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • Meat, poultry, and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Breads and cereals
  • Snack foods
  • Non-alcoholic beverages
  • Seeds and plants that produce food for the household to eat

Basically, your EBT card can be used to purchase most staple food items and ingredients. You‘re allowed to buy junk food and luxury items, but the core intent is to pay for nutritious groceries to cook and eat at home.

Something important to note is that SNAP benefits cannot be used to pay for non-food items like:

  • Pet food
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Paper products
  • Hygiene products
  • Cosmetics

This is true even if you‘re purchasing your groceries from an approved SNAP retailer online. More on that later.

Where Can You Use EBT Online?

Now for some good news: while you can‘t use EBT on apps like Uber Eats, you do still have options for buying groceries online with your benefits! A growing number of major grocery retailers accept EBT payments on their websites and apps for pickup or delivery.

As of [currentyear], participating stores include:

  • Aldi (through Instacart)
  • Amazon (including Amazon Fresh and Amazon Pantry, but not Whole Foods)
  • BJs
  • Food Lion
  • FreshDirect
  • Giant Food
  • Hy-Vee
  • Publix
  • Safeway
  • ShopRite
  • Sprouts Farmers Market
  • Stop & Shop
  • Walmart
  • Wegmans
  • Wright‘s Markets

Note that this list varies by state, so you‘ll have to check which retailers are available in your area. The USDA maintains a full list of approved stores by state.

While you still can‘t use your EBT card to order hot and prepared restaurant meals, shopping for groceries online gives you access to a much wider variety of retailers and products than you‘d have locally. This is a game-changer for SNAP recipients who live in food deserts with limited store options nearby.

For example, one SNAP recipient interviewed by the New York Times shared how online grocery shopping has been life-changing as a disabled person:

"I have a disability which makes it difficult to carry groceries. Getting my food delivered has helped me to be able to get fresh fruits, veggies and dairy products that I was unable to get regularly before. The expanded access has been a real blessing for me on a very limited income."

How to Use Your EBT Card for Online Grocery Delivery

To pay for an online grocery order with EBT, you‘ll first need to register your card with your retailer of choice. The exact steps will vary a bit between stores, but the general process is:

  1. On the account or payment settings page, look for an option to "Add EBT card". You‘ll need to enter your EBT card number and PIN just like with a regular debit card.

  2. Fill up your virtual cart, taking care to only select SNAP-eligible items. Most participating retailers will automatically separate EBT-eligible items from non-eligible items for you.

  3. At checkout, choose EBT as your payment method. If you have non-eligible items in your cart, you‘ll need to use an alternate payment like a credit card or gift card to cover those.

  4. Place your order and wait for your groceries to be delivered or pick them up from the store! Delivery fees can‘t be paid with SNAP benefits, so be prepared to cover those with another payment method.

One thing to keep in mind is that you can only use your EBT card in the state it was issued. So if you recently moved, you‘ll need to update your address and transfer your benefits before you can shop online.

How Uber Eats and Other Delivery Apps Could Better Serve Low-Income Communities

It‘s clear that current SNAP policies pose major barriers for food delivery apps to serve EBT recipients. But that doesn‘t let them entirely off the hook. Even if they can‘t directly accept EBT payments, there are still ways these platforms could make their services more accessible to low-income communities.

One obvious solution is to offer discounted rates for SNAP recipients. With proof of EBT status, customers could unlock special reduced delivery fees and service charges. Apps could also run promotions providing bonus funds to EBT cardholders to spend on the platform.

Delivery apps could also focus on expanding their grocery and convenience store offerings in underserved areas. Connecting residents of food deserts to affordable grocery delivery is arguably more impactful than pricey restaurant meals.

There‘s also an opportunity for these apps to assist in expanding online EBT access. Imagine if Uber Eats leveraged its massive platform to help more small grocers and bodegas get approved for the USDA‘s online purchasing pilot. Making online EBT payments more widely available is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Some delivery apps are already taking steps in this direction. DoorDash recently announced a partnership with Albertsons to enable EBT payments for grocery delivery in over 2,000 stores.

But there‘s still a long way to go. Food insecurity remains a crisis for millions of Americans. The big players in the food delivery space have both an opportunity and responsibility to be part of the solution.

The Bottom Line

As of [currentyear], you cannot use your EBT card to pay for orders on Uber Eats, DoorDash, GrubHub, or any restaurant food delivery app. This is due to long-standing SNAP restrictions on hot and prepared foods.

However, a growing number of grocery stores like Aldi, Amazon Fresh, and Walmart now accept EBT payments online for delivery and pickup orders. SNAP recipients can use their benefits to buy staple food items from these retailers, expanding access to healthy foods.

Delivery apps still have a long way to go to better serve low-income communities. Discounted fees, promotional campaigns, and partnerships to expand EBT online purchasing are all ways they could make a difference. Policy changes allowing SNAP to cover prepared meals would open up even more possibilities.

At the end of the day, no one should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. If you‘re struggling to afford food, know that you‘re not alone and there are resources available. Don‘t be afraid to reach out to your local food bank or SNAP office for support.

I hope this guide has given you a clearer picture of how to use your EBT benefits to put good food on the table, whether you‘re shopping in store or online. Have other money-saving tips or experiences to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Your Guide to Using EBT on Uber Eats and Other Food Delivery Apps - Marketing Scoop (2024)


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